Q: What is the most challenging part about attending college while serving in the military?
A: While serving on active duty and going to school, it can be as though you have two different jobs. I am in the National Guard so when I am not deployed, it is like having three different jobs: going to school, working a civilian job and attending National Guard weekend drills and Annual Training.
Right now, I am on active duty deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a Detention Operations Deployment. Here, time is a scarce commodity between shift work and being assigned to work details that must be done on days offs. As an NCO, I also have leadership responsibilities and military paperwork that must be submitted, such as periodic counseling of my subordinates, and mandatory attendance of military online classes. This is when knowing time management is a key.
Also, being here in Cuba, going to school online is a challenge because the Internet amenities are not always the greatest. You have to catch a good day when the power is not out or Internet is not down.
Even with the technological challenges of being deployed here, going to school online is the best option for me. I am attending American Military University and as a military student, they are very easy to work with as far as making adjustments for us if an emergency comes up.
Q: What are some tips for student success while trying to balance serving with getting an education?
A: Picking a military-friendly school is the number one suggestion I would make. They understand your hardships better and are more willing to work with you when new situations quickly arise.
I prefer online because I can go at my own pace. I have the luxury of staying in the comfort of my own surroundings while working on school work instead of having to drag myself to class. Another tip is to start school as soon as you can or you will continue to find ways to avoid starting.
Education is a great asset and with options for online and a wide range of degrees, everyone can find something. It also helps you stay involved and motivated.
During this deployment, I was glad I enrolled and started my master’s degree. It helps me clear my mind after working shift work and gives me a focus on something I’m interested in doing.
Another great way to be successful is find other soldiers/friends to enroll with you. Study groups are great. I had two soldiers enroll with me at AMU and we all help each other on our free time. It makes homework more fun, has created meaningful debates among us, and helps motivates each of us to do our best at getting good grades.
Q: What is your recommendation for funding a degree while actively serving?
A: Use all educational resources available to you. There are VA reps out there that can walk you through the whole process and find all the benefits authorized to you. In my home state of Minnesota, we have state tuition reimbursement that I used, along with GoArmy Tuition Assistance for my bachelor's degree.
GoArmy is very easy to use and great when it comes to TA. There are so many options one can use without taking out student loans. I had my whole bachelor's degree paid for and I am hoping that will be the case for my master’s degree.
Q: How is it different for active military vs reserve members?
A: The only difference I know of is the Post 9/11 GI Bill. For National Guard members and Reservists, it is based on your deployments. After so many days of being deployed, the percentage of coverage goes up, but it takes several deployments to get to 100%. That part is the same for active duty, but since you are always on active duty, it is easy to get to 100% coverage with three or more years of service.
Both reservists and active duty personnel use TA through GoArmy. It is a great source of money that is easy to use. It gives you money up front and at the end of the semester, you turn in your grades; to avoid having to pay money back, ensure you get at least a grade of C or better.